Prayers are scattered throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and we do well to learn to pray as those in the scripture prayed. If you have difficulty praying, try using a psalm as a guideline to help you pray.
Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer as an outline for prayer. He gave it twice actually, once in a sermon (Matthew 6:5-15) and once in response to his disciples’ request to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1-13). In both cases he teaches them about prayer itself and also gives them an outline to use when praying.
The careful reader will see that Jesus did not give his disciples exactly the same words in Matthew and Luke. That in itself should put to rest the idea that the Lord’s prayer is just a form to be repeated over and over, though it is a blessing to memorize it.
Almost a millennium before Jesus came down from heaven to earth, a man named Agur wrote down a prayer in Proverbs 30:7-9. He has two petitions of the Lord, and he seems to be urgent as he prays, “Two things I ask of you, O Lord; Do not refuse me before I die.” It is interesting that of all that Agur could have asked God, he asks for these two things.
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His first request is, “Remove far from me falsehood and lying.” He wants to be a man of truth. He knew how easy it was to be false and tell less than the truth.
His second petition is striking, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the food that is needful for me.” Or as Jesus taught us, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
How many of us have uttered a request like that in heartfelt prayer? I would guess not many. We may have no problem asking God not to make us poor, but to ask him not to give us riches? “Health and wealth” preachers whose message that God’s desire for all Christians is they be rich doesn’t fit so well with Agur’s plea, does it?
Agur’s prayer teaches something entirely different. He recognizes that ultimately God controls how much we have while on this earth or he would not pray the way he did. Agur was a keen observer and understood human nature and his own heart far better than most of us. He knew extreme wealth and extreme poverty could be enemies to his soul.
To paraphrase Agur in verse 10, “Lord, if you give me great riches, I will be tempted to take all the credit for my wealth and disown you saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Yet, if you make me poor, I will think I have a right to steal or expect others to provide for me and become a disgrace to your name. So, please, Lord, simply provide for my needs and give me grace to be careful and content.”
Riches have a tendency to make us self-sufficient, thinking God unnecessary. It is really not hard to see that. Poverty tends to make us desperate to do things that dishonor God like stealing and profaning God’s name. There is nothing inherently wrong with being either rich or poor, and the rich can steal as well as the poor, but Agur saw these tendencies and temptations and so should we.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Agur struggled with lying, pride and contentment. All three are common struggles. But the good man Agur was serious enough with the Lord to face his sins, recognize his weaknesses and plead with God to be gracious to help him in his weakness. Do we?
Charles Fitzpatrick is the pastor of Reibers Reformed Baptist Church near Shermans Dale.